Swaziland's King "Sets Poor Example" for Country Deeply Affected by HIV/AIDS, Article Says
December 21, 2006
Swaziland -- where one in three people between ages 15 and 49 are HIV-positive, according to UNAIDS -- has the highest HIV prevalence in the world, and King Mswati III is the "elephant in the room when Swazis contemplate their AIDS crisis," the Wall Street Journal reports. To prevent the spread of HIV, the king in 2001 reinstated a custom that mandates that all girls under age 18 should not have sexual relations for five years and that any man who has sex with a virgin under age 18 must pay one cow to the girl's family, according to the Journal. However, the king soon after reinstating the rule became engaged to a 17-year-old woman. In addition, although some HIV/AIDS advocates "credit the king" -- who has at least 12 wives -- for declaring HIV/AIDS a national disaster in 1999 and for his frequent discussion of the virus, some Swazis "privately say the 38-year-old monarch's own polygamous lifestyle sets a poor example for a nation dying of AIDS," according to the Journal. "There's a lack of role models," Agnes Mtetwa, HIV/AIDS program officer for the Council of Swaziland Churches, said, adding, "The king is a young man, and he has a whole host of the most beautiful girls in the land. ... Which young man doesn't want to be like the king?" Researchers, health workers and the king's AIDS council have said that traditional practices -- including child marriage, polygamy and widow inheritance -- are fueling the spread of HIV and that HIV/AIDS is intimately linked to the comparative powerlessness of women in Swazi culture (Phillips, Wall Street Journal, 12/20).
This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.